5 Emotion-Focused Coping Techniques for Stress Relief

Woman sitting outside in lotus position with the setting sun framed with her hands
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Stress management techniques can fall into two categories: problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping. Basically speaking, problem-focused (or solution-focused) coping strategies aim to eliminate sources of stress or work with the stressors themselves.

Meanwhile, emotion-focused coping techniques aid you in becoming less emotionally reactive to the stressors you face. They alter the way you experience these situations so they impact you differently.

Emotion-focused coping focuses on regulating negative emotional reactions to stress such as anxiety, fear, sadness, and anger. This type of coping may be useful when a stressor is something that you cannot change.

Many people think mainly of solution-focused coping strategies as the best way to manage stress. Cutting out the things that seem to cause us stress means we don't need to learn how to alter our responses to any stressors—there will be none left in our lives!

However, it's not entirely possible to cut all stress out of our lives. Some factors in our jobs, our relationships, or our lifestyles are simply prone to creating challenges. In fact, it wouldn't be entirely healthy to eliminate all stressors even if we could; a certain amount of stress is healthy.

Benefits of Emotion-Focused Coping

This is part of why emotion-focused coping can be quite valuable—shifting how we experience potential stressors in our lives can reduce their negative impact. Some key benefits of emotion-focused coping include:

  • You don't have to wait to find relief: With emotion-focused coping, we don't need to wait for our lives to change or work on changing the inevitable. We can simply find ways to accept what we face right now, and not let it bother us.
  • It reduces chronic stress: This can cut down on chronic stress, as it gives the body a chance to recover from what might otherwise be too-high levels of stress.
  • It can improve decision-making: It allows us to think more clearly and access solutions that may not be available if we are feeling overwhelmed. Because stressed people do not always make the most effective decisions, emotion-focused coping can be a strategy to get into a better frame of mind before working on problem-focused techniques.

Emotion-focused coping can help with both emotions and solutions. And the two types of coping strategies work well together in this way. While problem-focused strategies need to fit well with the specific stressors they are addressing, emotion-focused coping techniques work well with most stressors and need only fit the individual needs of the person using them.


Finding the right emotion-focused coping strategies for your lifestyle and personality can provide you with a vital tool for overall stress relief and can enable you to achieve greater physical and emotional health.


Meditation is an ancient practice that involves focusing attention and increasing awareness. It can have a number of psychological benefits, and research has shown that even brief meditation sessions can help improve emotional processing.

Meditation can help you to separate yourself from your thoughts as you react to stress. This allows you to stand back and choose a response rather than react out of panic or fear.

Meditation also allows you to relax your body, which can reverse your stress response as well. Those who practice meditation tend to be less reactive to stress, too, so meditation is well worth the effort it takes to practice.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares some techniques that can help you relax.

Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts


Journaling allows you to manage emotions in several ways. It can provide an emotional outlet for stressful feelings. It also can enable you to brainstorm solutions to problems you face.

Journaling also helps you to cultivate more positive feelings, which can help you to feel less stressed. It also brings other benefits for wellness and stress management, making it a great emotion-focused coping technique.

Research has found that positive-affect journaling, a type of expressive writing that involves using journaling prompts to elicit positive feelings, has a beneficial effect on emotion-focused self-regulation.


Cognitive reframing is a strategy that can be used to change how people experience events. For example, rather than thinking of something as stressful, reframing can help you shift your perspective and see it differently.

In order to reframe stressful thinking, you should:

  • Notice your thoughts: Being more aware of your thinking can help you become more aware of how your thought patterns influence your emotions.
  • Challenge your thoughts: Instead of accepting negative thoughts as facts, actively challenge them. Are they true? Are there other ways of looking at the problem? 
  • Replace negative thoughts: Once you've challenged your thoughts, actively replace them with something more positive and helpful. 

This technique allows you to shift the way you see a problem, which can actually make the difference between whether or not you feel stressed by facing it.

Reframing techniques aren't about "tricking yourself out of being stressed," or pretending your stressors don't exist; reframing is more about seeing solutions, benefits, and new perspectives.

Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are irrational thinking patterns that can increase stress, lead to poor decisions, and lead to negative thinking. For example, emotional reasoning is a type of cognitive distortion that causes people to draw conclusions based on feelings instead of facts. This can cause people to act irrationally and make it more difficult to solve problems.

Recognizing the way the mind alters what you see, including what you tell yourself about what you are experiencing, and the ways in which you may unknowingly contribute to your own problems, can allow us to change these patterns.

Become aware of common cognitive distortions, and you'll be able to catch yourself when you do this, and will be able to recognize and understand when others may be doing it as well.

Positive Thinking

Being an optimist involves specific ways of perceiving problems—ways that maximize your power in a situation, and keep you in touch with your options. Both of these things can reduce your experience of stress, and help you to feel empowered in situations that might otherwise overwhelm you.

Positive thinking can have a number of benefits, including acting as a buffer against life's stresses. When you see things in a more positive light, you are better able to make decisions without responding from a place of fear or anxiety.

One study found that actively replacing thoughts with more positive ones could reduce pathological worry in people with generalized anxiety disorder. Researchers have also found that focusing on positive emotions can reduce symptom severity in people who have emotional problems.

A Word From Verywell

Not all problems can be solved. You can't change someone else's behavior and you can't undo a health diagnosis. But, you can change how you feel about the problem. Experiment with different emotion-focused coping strategies to discover which ones reduce your distress and help you feel better.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Amnie AG. Emerging themes in coping with lifetime stress and implication for stress management education. SAGE Open Med. 2018;6:2050312118782545. doi:10.1177/2050312118782545

  2. Kristofferzon ML, Engström M, Nilsson A. Coping mediates the relationship between sense of coherence and mental quality of life in patients with chronic illness: a cross-sectional study. Qual Life Res. 2018 Jul;27(7):1855-1863. doi:10.1007/s11136-018-1845-0

  3. Juth V, Dickerson SS, Zoccola PM, Lam S. Understanding the utility of emotional approach coping: evidence from a laboratory stressor and daily life. Anxiety Stress Coping. 2015;28(1):50-70. doi:10.1080/10615806.2014.921912

  4. Wu R, Liu LL, Zhu H, Su WJ, Cao ZY, Zhong SY, Liu XH, Jiang CL. Brief mindfulness meditation improves emotion processing. Front Neurosci. 2019;13:1074. doi:10.3389/fnins.2019.01074

  5. Smyth JM, Johnson JA, Auer BJ, Lehman E, Talamo G, Sciamanna CN. Online positive affect journaling in the improvement of mental distress and well-being in general medical patients with elevated anxiety symptoms: a preliminary randomized controlled trial. JMIR Ment Health. 2018;5(4):e11290. doi:10.2196/11290

  6. Clark DA. Cognitive restructuring. In: Hofmann SG, Dozois D, eds. The Wiley Handbook for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, First Edition. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. doi:10.1002/9781118528563.wbcbt02

  7. Rnic K, Dozois DJ, Martin RA. Cognitive distortions, humor styles, and depression. Eur J Psychol. 2016;12(3):348-62. doi: 10.5964/ejop.v12i3.1118

  8. Eagleson C, Hayes S, Mathews A, Perman G, Hirsch CR. The power of positive thinking: Pathological worry is reduced by thought replacement in Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Behav Res Ther. 2016;78:13-8. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2015.12.017

  9. Sewart AR, Zbozinek TD, Hammen C, Zinbarg RE, Mineka S, Craske MG. Positive affect as a buffer between chronic stress and symptom severity of emotional disorders. Clin Psychol Sci. 2019;7(5):914-927. doi:10.1177/2167702619834576

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.